June 7, 2013
By Karen Thomas
Khaled Hosseini, author of best-sellers The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has already established himself as a master storyteller. His books take readers inside Afghanistan and provide a look at intimate life not often detailed in the international media coverage.
And the Mountains Echoed continues this tradition. At the heart of the novel are Pari and Abdullah, beloved brother and sister, separated when poverty and the approaching cold of winter causes their father, Saboor, to sell Pari to a wealthy Kabul couple. Her leaving, of course, is wrenching and forever alters the lives of the young siblings.
“But there was no forgetting. Pari hovered, unbidden, at the edge of Abdullah’s vision everywhere he went. She was like the dust that clung to his shirt. She was in the silences that had become so frequent at the house, silences that welled up between their words, sometimes cold and hollow, sometimes pregnant with things that went unsaid, like a cloud filled with rain that never fell,” Hosseini writes as Abdullah grapples with his sister’s absence.
Saboor’s action sets into motion unexpected reverberations that touch not only the siblings and their father, but other parents and their children, extended family members and even the relationships that develop between caretakers and their employers. These tales are full of surprising twists and woven into one narrative.
The stories span time, from the 1950s until 2010, and the globe: Characters’ journeys take them from small, dusty villages to Kabul; from Paris to San Francisco; and even to the Greek island of Tinos.
The novel is a beautifully written exploration of the ties that bind regardless of who we are or what we have done. Hosseini’s finely drawn characters create snarled yet strong roots. He allows us to witness wounds, sacrifices and healing that only family members can deliver to each other. Time, distance and failing health cannot disrupt what families create: In the end, what endures is love.
“Adel knew he would not love his father again as he had before, when he would sleep happily curled in the bay of his thick arms,” Hosseini writes about one troubled character after he discovers a truth about his father. “That was inconceivable now. But he would learn to love him again even if now it was a different, more complicated, messier business.”
At times, the story lines feel dark, and it seems that despair, grief and hurt will be too great for the characters to survive. But each finds a way not only to endure but to again discover hope.
“She is my flesh and blood,” one character says near the novel’s end. “And soon I will meet her children, and her children’s children, and my blood courses through them too. I am not alone. A sudden happiness catches me unawares. I feel it trickling into me, and my eyes go liquid with gratitude and hope.”
Karen M. Thomas teaches journalism at Southern Methodist University.